HEATED BATTLE FOR RACE ONE OF THE IMSA GT3 CUP CHALLENGE BY YOKOHAMA
Rookie Sean Johnston Claims his First Victory
MONTEREY, Calif., Friday, May 11, 2012 – After several fog and sand ridden days at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the sun broke out and the racing heated up in the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama Series.
While blood boiled on track today due to ultra-tight competition, rising star Sean Johnson emerged victorious in the first 30-lap feature of the weekend. He and fellow “young gun” and teammate Madison Snow swapped for the lead early on in today’s race, and thus began an intense dual to the checkered.
In dramatic fashion, as the two faced the checkered flag and slower traffic on track, they made a harrowing split around the slower entry of No. 33, Peter LeSaffre and came out head-to- head for the final dash to the finish. Johnson nudged ahead of Snow to come away with his very first victory.
“We were driving pretty hard,” said an emotional Johnson. “We were letting it hang out there at the end. We were both just pushing as hard as we could and I was just happy to bring it home. This is the first time in my life I am on the top spot on the podium and this is just so great. I just can’t thank Wright Motorsports and Driscoll’s and my family enough for all of their support. This is the culmination of all my hard work and everything leading up to this moment. I am just so grateful!”
Seventeen-year-old Snow, who captured the Pole in qualifying earlier this morning put up a fierce fight, only to miss the win by merely .792 with his Snow Racing/Wright Motorsports entry. However, his finish marks him with five podiums in five races, an impressive effort so far this season.
“The race was really good overall. I was leading there for a while, but he just got me on the restart. Then we got a good gap between us and I just couldn’t close it. But it was a great race.”
In a twist of “Mother’s Day” fate, Melanie Snow joined her son in receiving the BBS Pole Award while on the podium due to her fastest lap in Gold Class qualifications earlier today.
“I had to keep going out,” she laughed. “I would go out and hang it out for one lap and then bring it back in. I kept asking if I was on Pole and then they would send me out one more time. I am so excited!! This is the best mother’s day gift ever having both of us on the Pole!”
Unfortunately, Snow’s lead was short-lived during the race as rookie Angel Benitez Jr., swept past her to claim the lead shortly after the green flag fell and maintained his charge to take top honors on the podium for the Gold Class.
“Finally,” gasped the young Venezuelan. “I was not up front last time and I was pissed! It was a really, really good race and I knew it was going to be a battle with Melanie (Snow) from the start. I tried to get a jump on the start and I just tried to keep it out front as best I could.“
One of the greatest battles of the day took place between teammates Kasey Kuhlman and Fernando Pena of Wright Motorsports. The two waged a consistent and intense war for final spot on the podium in the Platinum class, but kept their sportsmanship in high gear to race each other cleanly.
Ultimately, Dr. Pena got the edge on Kuhlman, which allowed him to climb the stairs to Mazda Raceway’s victory circle.
“We are teammates,” he said of Kasey Kuhlman. “But that doesn’t mean we should take anything for granted. We are competing against each other and I just started pushing and pushing and there was a point where actually I was pushing too hard, and that can hurt you on this track due to the smoothness. So then I had to back off a bit and in the end I was not too convinced that I would hold third.”
And Kuhlman tried his hardest to shake his veteran teammate loose.
“It was a lot of fun and I had such a great time. The team told me to pretend that I was driving in the rain and to stay smooth here because of all the grip issues. And I have a tendency to overcharge corners when I get excited. And it worked, I kept it nice and smooth with steady hands and I don’t think I spun my rear wheels once. The car is just perfect right now, we just didn’t have enough to catch the guy in front of me.”
Melanie Snow and Scott Tucker of Level 5 Motorsports joined young Benitez on the podium to cinch up second and third places respectively for the Gold Class effort.
Grant Phipps and Topp Racing will take away the Yokohama Hard Charger Award for moving up eight spots from his starting position on the grid to finish 10th overall.
The race was not without incident, as a full course caution slowed the pace on laps four through six as the No. 17 car of Paul Barnhart Jr. went off in turn three and got stuck in the gravel, at the same time as the No. 88 of Marco Cirone limped to safety with a flat left rear.
Another full caution ensued on laps 19 and 20 as the No. 5 World Speed Motorsports entry of Will Lin slid off on his own in turn six.
Due to the heated racing environment, a series of driver penalties were issued post checkered. The No. 20 car of Sloan Urry was issued a penalty for a pit speed violation and served a stop-and-go plus sixty seconds. Drivers D. Bryce Miller, Franck Silah, David Calvert-Jones and Angel Benitez Sr., were penalized two positions for avoidable contact.
Race two of the weekend’s double feature will take the green flag on May 12 at 10:45 am. The forty-five-lap race will signal the closing event on the IMSA Development Series activity roster for this race weekend.